MANKATO — Energetic music played as a small crowd gathered Wednesday morning in Jackson Park downtown.
The recorded Latin music reflected the positive mood during a rally before a hoped-for meeting with Congressman Jim Hagedorn. The 30 people who participated want the District 1 representative to know immigrants are taxpayers and workers deserving of protected stability.
“We are essential workers,” said Ismael Martinez, of Blue Earth.
Martinez, who also is a pastor for a Spanish-speaking congregation in Blue Earth, described how each weekday he and his wife, Elizabeth, make 90-mile round trip drives from their home to Mankato, where they have contracts to repair houses.
During the rally, Martinez held an orange sign for passing motorists to read. Some honked to show solidarity for his support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Dreamers.
Being an independent contractor is part of his family’s dream, Martinez later said in a speech at the park.
“When I first came here, I planned to be here for one season, but I ended up staying. It’s almost like I planted a tree and its roots continue to grow to a point that it is difficult to pull out.”
The Martinezes and other attendees who live in District 1 were not able to talk to Hagedorn on Wednesday. But a representative from the congressman’s Mankato office accepted a letter from Communities Organizing Power and Action for Latinos, said the organization’s communications director, Carolina Ortiz.
Hagedorn’s office did not respond Wednesday to an email from The Free Press requesting comment.
COPAL’s Mankato and Minneapolis offices organized the rally in an effort to urge the 1st District’s representative to support a budget reconciliation bill that includes language for a path to citizenship for DACA and people with temporary protected status, as well as essential and agriculture workers.
“Immigrants pay taxes. I know my parents do,” said Marco Hernandez, COPAL’s director of public policy.
Regional Director Lourdes Menjivar told the gathering Hagedorn’s support of relief via the country’s budget reconciliation process would help families that include thousands who live in the district the congressman represents. District 1 includes the state’s southernmost counties, between Minnesota’s borders with South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Immigrants are a crucial part of our democracy and our communities with one in five essential workers in America being an immigrant, said Menjivar, whose office is in Mankato.
According to the New American Economy, in 2017, Minnesota Congressional District 1 was home to 42,000 immigrants or 6.3% of the population. Immigrants paid $372.5 million dollars in taxes and had a spending power of $1 billion, said a COPAL press release.
Speakers used Spanish and English to express their reasons for urging Hagedorn to remember the immigrants who live in Rochester, Albert Lea, Mankato, St. Peter and Worthington.
Irina Montezuma, the manager of a local market in St. Peter and the mother of two, said the budget reconciliation would help her continue to work and to reach her goals.
“I hope to continue to contribute to this country and to become a citizen.”
DACA recipient Kenneth Menjívar, a biology student at Minnesota State University, described a barrier that is making it harder to achieve his goal of studying medicine and becoming a doctor. Because of his immigration status, he’s not eligible for some college scholarships.
During his speech, Menjívar said that in the future he could save many lives, including Hagedorn's. The congressman has stage 4 cancer.
Comments from the gathering sponsored by COPAL were recorded and will be televised on the show "COPAL Poder y Accion" that airs on Univision.
The rally was planned in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, a monthlong national observance that began Wednesday.